ZIKA-CLOSE-UP

Belize is safe for travel; no cases of Zika yet

The spread of the Zika virus in the Americas, including countries in the Caribbean, and the possible link to birth defects such as microcephaly (babies with small heads) have left many people – especially pregnant women – wondering whether they should cancel their holidays to the region.

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and individual countries have advised their pregnant citizens not to travel, and some airlines and cruise lines are offering refunds and/free penalty-free changes.

But the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) say there is no reason to panic or to put travel plans on hold.

There have been no confirmed cases of Zika in Belize, despite reported cases in surrounding Central American and Caribbean territories. As concerns grow among tourists, travel advisories have been issued about visiting a number of destinations but Belize is not included in the list of affected countries.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika a public health emergency two weeks ago and many countries who rely on tourism have already started to feel the effects of the travel advisories as pregnant women, in particular, are being advised not to travel to affected regions.

Zika has been confirmed in Barbados, Guyana, Haiti and Suriname, as well as Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Panama. The virus, which is transmitted by the aedes aegypti, is of particular concern because it has been linked to microcephaly, a birth defect causing children to be born with abnormally small and under-developed brains. There have also been reports of still-births as a result of the condition. Brazil has been the most affected with this condition.

Belize Director of Health Services (DHS), Dr. Marvin Manzanero in an interview with the media last week confirmed that there were three samples tested for Zika and the first returned sample was negative, though, the results of the other samples were still pending. Belize, however, has been able to contain mosquito spread viruses, including Chikungunya with only four cases being reported in the country last year, whereas other territories experienced an outbreak of the virus.

Belize has launched a campaign to combat Zika similar to the approach it took with Chikungunya. The strategy includes a series of educational and awareness campaigns as well as consistent spraying by the Vector Control Unit to eliminate the most common vector, the aedes aegypti. Clean-up efforts to get rid of mosquito breeding grounds are also included in the strategy.

In the meantime, authorities have assured that everything possible is being done to ensure there is no outbreak of the virus.

 

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